UAE's Asian Cup campaign ends
The UAE's Ali Salmin vies for the ball with Qatar's Pedro Correia.
The atmosphere was feverish and pressure intense
By Ashwani Kumar
Published: Tue 29 Jan 2019, 9:15 PM
Last updated: Tue 29 Jan 2019, 11:20 PM
The UAE's AFC Asian Cup 2019 journey ended at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday.
The UAE despite absence of key players like Omar Abdulrahman, and defenders Khalifa Mubarak and Mohammad Ahmed, reached their second consecutive semifinal since the heroics back in 1996 as the host nation. There were more injury concerns, but ahead of the high-voltage clash against Qatar, midfielder Ismail Al Hammadi and defender Fares Juma both recovering from their niggles started.
With huge turnout of fans inside the stadium and millions praying across the country, there was no dearth of motivation for the players. The atmosphere was feverish and pressure intense. Seconds before the kick-off Khamis Esmaeel, back in the starting line-up after suspension, went and hugged Ali Mabkhout. More than anything else, it was an embrace to cool nerves of the UAE talisman.
The UAE started with right intent. Striker Mabkhout looked in his element, wingers Ismail Al Hammadi and Saif Rashid were effective from their respective flanks and Fares Juma, who was handed captaincy band, marshalled the backline efficiently.
Coach Alberto Zaccheroni, however, seemed to have lost the plot in midfield by not fielding Ismail Matar as the UAE were ragged on the break. And totally against the run of play, Qatar scored the opener from a counter-attack.
In the 22nd minute, Qatari midfielder Boualem Khoukhi found the back of the net with his long-range effort. UAE keeper Khalid Eisa was caught in two minds with an advancing Khoukhi from the right flank and Qatar striker Almoez Ali's presence in the box on the left.
With Juma marking Khoukhi, Eisa might have expected a pass to Almoez Ali but the solo effort on goal came out of the blue. The UAE redoubled efforts looking for an equaliser. Mabkhout and Ismail Al Hammadi had chances with their headers inside the box.
Against the run of play UAE conceded for a second time. Almoez Ali edged past UAE defenders to curl a right-footer to the corner of the goal past a full-stretched Eisa.
After the break, Ismail Matar took charge of the situation and replaced Amer Abdulrahman. And minutes later, Ismail Al Hammadi made way for Ahmed Khalil. The 'Whites' looked a potent unit with the country's top scorers Khalil, Mabkhout and Matar on the pitch at the same time.
There were a barrage of attacks but the UAE strikers lacked precision. The UAE, in search of a goal, let up in defence. Taking advantage of the situation, Hasan Al Haydos and Hamid Ismaeil made it 4-0 for Qatar.
It was a valiant effort from the UAE players, especially considering the resources at disposal for Zaccheroni, but it wasn't meant to be their day.